It’s one of the oldest adages in the advertising industry: sex sells. For decades, the naked body - almost without exception of the female and attractive variety - has been used to promote products that have little connection with the body and absolutely nothing to do with naturism, social nudity, body acceptance or just the sheer pleasure of the naked lifestyle.
In the decade that fashion (not to mention good taste in general) forgot - the 1970s - you could hardly pick up a newspaper or magazine, see a billboard, or visit an exhibition without seeing a pneumatic, pulchritudinous and invariably not-very-bright young lady freely displaying her obvious attributes alongside the products she was very tenuously promoting. Subtle it wasn’t.
Political correctness, which by the 1990s had, depending on your viewpoint, reached its apotheosis/nadir, curtailed a lot of gratuitous nudity in the world of marketing, but also managed to take a lot of the fun out of it too.
In recent years, nudity seems to have made something of a comeback in ad land, and it would appear that the industry might even have grown up a little. More sophisticated consumer tastes, the challenges of the technological revolution, and an ever more competitive marketplace have all combined to force the ad men (and women) to become more creative, more nuanced, and - whisper it quietly - more socially responsible, particularly where the naked body is concerned.
And, I’m pleased to say, not only have they re-discovered their sense of humour but also seem to have discovered for the first time that 1) not all naked people in adverts have to be women and/or stunningly attractive and 2) all naturists aren’t cranks, crumblies or perverts. Most of us are just normal folks who enjoy a lifestyle that doesn’t always involve wearing clothes. And in that sense, we’re just like any other demographic.
Some products, of course, not only lend themselves to displays of bare skin when you promote them, but almost demand it. Beauty and bodycare is one of the most obvious examples, and companies like Dove have been at the forefront of using ‘real women’ (i.e not professional models) in their ongoing Campaign For Real Beauty. When they launched their Pro-Age range, aimed at the 40+ market, they went a stage further by using a selection of naked women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, although due to the reticence of many TV stations to show actual rather than implied nudity, the campaign was restricted to magazines and online media.
Irish cosmetics brand Elave went further still, into full-frontal territory, with its online Nothing To Hide campaign, with a naked laboratory researcher presenting to camera and several of her colleagues, male and female, seen at work behind the scenes on the company’s totally natural product line. It’s a striking advert, and although it inevitably featured a predominantly attractive cast of actors rather than actual company employees, it’s good to hear that the film crew also went naked during the shoot to put everybody involved at ease. Or at least that was their excuse.
True to its name meanwhile, skin care product Reversa turned the tables by featuring naked men in its campaign targeting independent, sexually active women who refuse to become socially invisible just because they are getting older. Cougar power at its best.
Nudity often has the ability to shock as well as titillate however, hence its use by many charity concerns and protest groups. Animal rights organisation PETA has been using naked celebrities for several years in its I’d Rather Go Naked anti-fur campaign, and has gone on to use similar tactics to denounce live animal exports and to promote vegetarianism. Greenpeace brought in nude group photography specialist Spencer Tunick for a shoot on a Swiss glacier to raise awareness of the impact of climate change. And the medical world too has realised the power of the naked form in getting important messages across. Numerous cancer charities have used bare breasts in a very non-sexual context, to highlight the importance of women getting regular checks and to show the ravages of the disease, whilst a UK charity promoting organ donations set out to explain how transplants can help others ‘live on in love’ by featuring a series of naked couples relishing the second chance given to them by a donor operation.
In the case of Equinox Fitness Clubs, it was the Catholic Church’s turn to be shocked, as they were unable to see the funny side of a membership enrolment campaign which saw one advert featuring a male nude modelling for an art class attended by some rather sexy nuns. Judging by the expressions on their faces, at least the nuns seemed to have enjoyed it.
Naturally, the man in question had a good physique. The same can’t quite be said for the naked jogger promoting Forsake running shoes; Gary Lineker, who appeared in the buff on board a bus of naked passengers for the Walker’s Crisps ‘Baked Naked’ advert; the man in the Specsavers commercial who thinks he is stripping off in a steam room only to find himself in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant once the steam clears; or the skinny dipper in the British Heart Foundation advert encouraging the over-50s to do more exercise. Well, that would have been pretty silly if they’d used somebody who looked like Tom Daley, wouldn’t it?
On the whole however, it does seem that many advertisers still want their nudes - male and female - to be as easy on the eye as possible. The Richmond Ham ‘As Nature Intended’ commercial for instance featured a group of impossibly attractive young farmers enjoying a naked picnic: amusing, good to watch, and a memorable way of promoting an otherwise fairly unsexy product. Ironically, the Advertising Standards Authority had no problem with the nudity in the advert, but instead banned it over the company's claim that it was “Britain’s only ham made with 100% natural ingredients,” which turned out to be untrue.
The jury is possibly still out with regard to Pepsi, which promoted its new product Raw with an ‘In the Raw’ campaign featuring a good-looking and totally naked couple. Pepsi’s claim to the product being ‘natural’ is down to the fact that it’s made from natural ingredients which include apple extract, caramel colouring, tartaric acid, gum arabic and cane sugar. Yummy.
Advertising agencies, it goes without saying, are fond of such puns and plays on words, and where nudity is concerned, there are no exceptions. Comfort staged a naturist marriage guidance session when it launched its Naturals fabric conditioner; Wetsuit company Radiator, in a series of magazine adverts showing naked couples having sex on surfboards, ran with the tagline “All the rubber you’ll need.” And keeping with condoms, a commercial made by Four Seasons in Australia (where else?) featured a young couple trying out the company’s Naked range in their local pharmacy, just like they’d try on a pair of trainers in a shoe shop.
There are a lot of other examples out there, and if I’ve missed your favourite naked advert, apologies. Nude seems to be the new clothed - although a sign that things might have come full circle is a recent series of adverts for Playboy magazine: surely the epitome of 1970s sexist culture. In an update of the old line about buying the magazine “for the articles,” the publishers have devised a campaign showing a series of men more interested in reading what’s on the page than looking at the naked women in front of them, complete with double entendres relating to important news issues such deforestation, crack addiction, Silicon Valley and the like.
Plus ça change?